More about this song
Written in 1793, 'Bonie Jean' was inspired by Jean McMurdo (1777-1839), the daughter of Burns's friend John McMurdo of Drumlanrig (1743-1803) who was Chamberlain to the Duke of Queensberry. In July of 1793 Burns sent the finished ballad to George Thomson for inclusion in his Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs.
The poet also sent it to John McMurdo requesting permission to present it to his daughter. In his letter to McMurdo, Burns shows an awareness of his legacy when he writes that, 'I assure you, I am not a little flattered with the idea, when I anticipate children pointing out in future Publications the tributes of respect I have bestowed upon their mothers'.
Eventually Burns presented the ballad to Jean herself, flattering that, 'The personal charms, the purity of mind, the ingenious naiveté of heart and manners, in my heroine, are, I flatter myself, a pretty just likeness of Miss M'murdo in a cottager'.
The poet then proceeds to express concern for Jean as she comes of age and, 'female Youth, Beauty and Innocence about to enter into this much chequered and very precarious world.' The ballad itself is a pastoral song which invokes nature to create a scene of beauty, simplicity and innocence.